Friday, October 29, 2010

Unfettered Writing

If you knew that you would never be published (or for those who have a book or so under their belts, never published again) would you continue to write? You should, because exercising that creative muscle would at that point be all about the process and not the boundaries, either real or imagined. I’m not talking about writing with ungodly abandon, but writing unfettered.

On a recent flight, I happened to pick up Southwest’s magazine and found the perfect example of writing unfettered. In October’s edition, Neil Gaiman’s short story Orange was featured, and I loved that his writing strayed outside the normal expectations of a salable story.

The opening lines are: ‘CONFIDENTIAL POLICE FILE’ and ‘(Third subject’s response to investigation’s written questionnaire).’ Then it lists the answers phrased so that you know the question without reading them. His treatment was so unconventional that I had the feeling he didn’t care about the ‘rules.’ He appeared to be having a ball.

So imagine there’s no one telling you this is the way it should be done, this is what sells. What elements of story can we address with the freshness that comes from writing for sheer enjoyment? Here’s a starter list:

  • In whose perspective should the story be told? Consider all the possible characters who may have a fresh perspective and don’t just round up the usual suspects. It could be a very minor or surprising character with some tie-in before the end.
  • What is the unique premise? Is the premise itself unique, or is it enough that the treatment be unique? Neil’s story has both.
  • When does the story start? Try writing from the end forward or out of sequence, if disjointedness is a reflection on the protagonist.
  • Why should we care about the characters? Is the quest truly life changing? Does it suggest danger or risk-taking, whether physical or through inner turmoil?

It’s true that Neil has earned the right to color outside the lines, and there is a definite trust factor established for him to produce a salable product that will delight his readers. But he didn’t get to that point by fettered writing.

Are there elements of your story that could use a fresh perspective? We’d love to hear from you.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yes, I’d write without any guarantee of publication.
Love that line about coloring outside the lines.

I have an idea brimming for a future novel told from an insanely unusual POV. Playing with it. I want to get a few more under my belt before I attempt it.

Excellent questions to ask here!
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Great question, Debbie. Yes, I'd write, as I have all these years, whether published or not. I'd love to get to that place of abandon, where it didn't matter either way. I'm not there yet. Sigh. Any chance we could get a link to the story Orange?

Patti Hill said...

On a recent car trip, my husband and I listened to The Art of Racing in the Rain told from the point of view of a dog. Fabulous! The author, Garth Stein, manages to avoid all the cliche dog-think. He creates a voice of a philosopher dog, educated by television. It's unfettered to be sure.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Here's the link

Please excuse the clumsiness! I'm on vacation and having difficulty accessing blogger. :)

Bonnie Grove said...

These are great points, Debbie! Excellent reminders of how each of these elements need to be tried out, and how we should never assume we know the right way to tell the story right out of the chute.

Each element requires our contemplation, and creativity. Excellent post - one to print out and keep nearby!

Thanks for the link, too!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

There is so much fettering around us. Gravity, Television, Standardised Education Today my fetter is grief, yesterday, exhaustion. If it weren't for my imagination and the boundless worlds I travel through I would act out my insanity in much more destructive ways.
I have written a piece where the character rails against the confinement of flesh. The Spirit is ricocheting off the inside of his skin and it hurts.
This goes back to the Untameable God and His cry for His children to expand their vision of Him and themselves.
I did think the author of Orange might have called the Orange Character 'Emmanance' since the colour 'emanated' from her. Or perhaps 'Illustriousness'
(See the glowing spell check fetters?)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Yay! Applause. Writing unfettered. But, how shall we eat?

Bonnie Grove said...

Cherry: I understand what you're saying. It's the worry of every writer/artist who attempts to stand on her own feet.
In the end, we often need to decide between the two. We live in a culture where 16 year old pop stars write memoirs, and vampires have become boyfriends.

On the upside, if we are unfettered, we can fly farther afield to find food. :)

Nikole Hahn said...

I got up to about 44,000 words on my novel in progress and after learning more about improving my writing style, I realized my characters need tweaking. I realized that I didn't put enough emotions in it. This blog was great. Very informative.

Steve G said...

When talking about the dog's POV I think the term is "unleashed".

How do we eat? Many great artists had day jobs; jobs that provided the means to create. The calling of God to a ministry is not the same as the calling to full-time ministry. That, I believe, is a very North American slant (materialistic) to the dialogue. As a pastor I have come to the understanding I don't have to be in a church full time to fulfill my calling. The calling is about ministry, not the pay cheque. In fact, most of church ministry is not done by the professional, but by the volunteer. When you read agents' blogs, again and again the statement comes up to not quit your day job.

It's like surfing. Go out and paddle, and if the wave comes try to ride it as long as you can. The real joy, though, is to be out on the water in the sun paddling. For many, that is as far as they will ever go. No one can command the waves to come. People try, but it doesn't work. The only way to assure success is to take the time to learn the craft and become a master at it. Some say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. At 2 hours a day that is 5,000 days (some 14-15 years years I think) of learning, writing, developing, reading, etc. I keep going back to Latayne's statement about how she does not do much author mentoring because most of them don't have the drive to put the effort in to reach the goal. This is a great time to make that commitment for yourself anew. Put the words, "whatever it takes" on your monitor and go for it. Now, sit down and write something!

Ellen Staley said...

Nicole, I understand what you're going through. I had reached 50,000 when I began the edit process with Bonnie.

Talk about fetters. I'm fettered to my previous work to a certain extent and trying to break through and view with new lenses.

Orange really impacted me on how we, as readers, read into a story. What a great example of allowing your readers to connect the dots.

Kathleen Popa said...

Cherry, I agree with Steve, that most writers - most published must find some other way to eat, anyway. Someone once said that the occupation of poet (or writer) is not the best recommendation to your landlord.

And yet, there are the Neil Gaimans of the world. And the Markus Zusaks (The Book Thief), and the Garth Steins (Patti, I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain, too). All of them writing unfettered. All of them eating.

Is there a message here?

sally said...

Loved this post. Loved the comments.

I will always write, published or not. And I know that writing with no expectation of publication frees you from all kinds of fetters.

I still have miles to go, I am a good Christian girl and obeying the rules is ingrained in me. But you need a little rebellious spirit to break out, I think.

Kathleen Popa said...

Sally, obey yes, but whose rules? We must be careful not to mistake for the gospel what in truth are man-made rules (spoken or not), or worse, our own laziness and fear. It was not David who was wrong when he danced in the streets - naked, even - but his wife who hid beside the window, worrying about proprieties.

Bonnie Way aka the Koala Mom said...

This was recently commented on in one of my writing classes. We're studying "Stone Animals," a short story with lots of surreal elements, aided by vague (yet very good) descriptions. One student complained that if she presented a story like that to her workshop class, the other students would tell her it was no good. So how do we get past the expected, the rules, the "this sells, this works now, this is the current trend"? Someone had to start those "new" techniques that we're all now using. As you say, reading great stories like Neil's, which do break those rules, is a way to get out of the ruts and think about your writing in a new way.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I loved Orange! What a remarkably creative way to tell a story.